Letchford, who spent 10 years in IT at Procter & Gamble, is frankly surprised by how polarizing the idea of cloud computing is in the public sphere. "Some people in government see it as a threat, and some see it as a solution, but I haven't met anyone who doesn't have an opinion."
Where are the successes in public-sector cloud computing? Primarily in three areas: hosted email, private cloud-based data centers and ERP. In fact, if you look at the case studies from the TechAmerica conference, almost half involve email.
However, there are also some cutting-edge government agencies that are looking at becoming service providers themselves, and that's where the outlook for public-sector cloud computing is most encouraging, analysts and practitioners say. IDC's Rubel calls cloud sharing "the coolest thing" in public-sector cloud computing and cites Michigan and Utah as trendsetters in such endeavors.
Ohio is another pioneer in public-sector cloud computing. CIO Stu Davis is offering both cloud-based and on-premises email to give agencies as much flexibility as possible. The new system takes the place of what had been 19 different applications on four different email platforms. If an agency wants on-premises email, and about 60 percent do, the state's IT department charges the agency $4.50 per user per month for 1GB of storage. If an agency opts for hosted email, as the remaining 40 percent have, the price drops to $2.50 per user per month for 500MB of storage.
In Utah, CIO Fletcher launched a cloud computing project in 2010. He started with a server consolidation project that reduced the number of machines from 1,900 to 500 through virtualization. That initiative cut operating costs by about 25 percent. Then IT began providing hosted email and storage services for all state agencies. "A gigabyte of our storage was a nickel cheaper than Amazon's before they instituted their government rate," says Fletcher proudly.
Now Fletcher's Utah IT department has started offering the same hosting and storage services to the state's cities and counties, which previously had to fend for themselves when it came to procuring tech services. "This is really beneficial for smaller cities that don't have IT folks or the capital to put projects in place," says Fletcher. "We can set it up rapidly and provide the service cost-effectively." Over a five-year budget cycle, Fletcher's department has saved Utah $72 million; all of the money saved goes into the state's general fund.
Beyond cloud sharing, Ohio's Davis is looking at optimizing the state's computer infrastructure, partly to reduce the complexity of server, storage and network needs, but also to proactively keep agencies from migrating to public clouds on their own.
"Our intent is to continue building a private cloud and get the agencies to move their infrastructure to a consolidated center," Davis says. "If we let them go to commercial cloud providers, it'll be harder to put the cat back in the bag."
And in Maine, deputy state controller Cotnoir is using global consulting firm CGI to host and manage the state's ERP system, which currently handles financial and procurement applications, with HR management tools due to come online next year.